Resident Evil review
Can the Horror Survive?
Horror comes across well
Camera + control system combo produces awkward movement
Gamespan too short
Far too difficult
Resident Evil has garnered much praise for defining the horror genre. Now Capcom have released a remake of the original onto the Gamecube. So, is this game worthy of the praise it has received?
Graphically the game is excellent. There's a great level of detail. Character models have been built up with a high level of detail, with nothing looking flat. There are little details added to them like badges and pockets that it's clear the level of care that has been taken.
Environments have also been worked on a lot. The shortcutting of using 2D elements is generally a bit more noticable here but nevertheless have been constructed well with clever use of designs. The lighting is especially effective. Ambient light coming from the mansion fittings wash the passageways in a dim yellowish glow. Rooms also get filled in white by the lightning flashes from outside.
Special effects don't end there. Explosions of blood flow from successful shots well. Dust clouds get kicked up and water swirls around characters as they wade through it. Quite a high level of attention to detail.
Animation in itself is also excellent. Characters move convincingly, with Chris and Jill even holding their guns in a manner you would expect as they walk or run. Water looks like fluid water and not some static texture. All is well done.
Capcom didn't skimp out on the sound either. Generally speaking, the game uses very little in the way of actual music. But that's fine. What music does play is used at key points, especially to build up the suspense that adds to the horror factor. The actual style works well, such as a slow steady buildup to make the player think something is just around the next corner.
Sound effects are also excellent. Gunshots blast out around the mansion, the typewriter clicks along as it types up progress, water sloshes around. Everything has a convincing sound effect. Perhaps the best trait is the groans of the zombies that come from just around the corner. It really adds to the tension.
Voice acting is also used within the various cutscenes. Voices tend to match the characters well and synch well with their moving lips. It all comes together to create a very convincing and strong atmosphere.
The usually peaceful remote place that is Raccoon City has been hit with a series of gruesome murders. With the local authorities at a loss the S.T.A.R.S. (Special Tactics And Rescue Squad) are called in to assist. The investigation begins swifly.
However, things take a turn for the worse when the helicopter carrying the Bravo team members of S.T.A.R.S. is forced to make an emergency landing in the nearby forests and all communication is lost. Concerned for their fellow team mates Alpha team heads out to the forest to find Bravo team.
They find the helicopter, but it looks like it took a beating on landing. Bravo team is nowhere in sight either. Alpha team spreads out to investigate the area, but something is wrong. Out of nowhere one of the alpha members is knocked down by a pack of dogs. Jill tried to assist but she's too late to save him. More dogs appear, outnumbering the remaining S.T.A.R.S. members. A retreat is ordered but their helicopter pilot takes off without them. With nowhere else to run the members take refuge in an old abandoned mansion, but the horror is only just beginning.
The story from this point splits off depending on which character you picked. Choose Chris and Chris, Jill and Wesker make it inside the mansion. Pick Jill and it'll be Jill, Barry and Wesker.
It's a pretty strong plot, and it's nice to see that the core plot is the same while having different storyline traits on the two routes, which adds to the incentive of playing both routes.
Character development is also a strong point here. There are some good plot points that reveal a lot about a character. That said, it isn't all good. Chris, for example, feels rather underdeveloped.
The goal of the game is to investigate the mansion to find out what is going on and find a way out of there. But the mansion isn't as mundane or empty as you might expect.
The key selling point of such a game is obviously going to be the horror, and this is something RE manages to do quite well. The different areas of the mansion are suitably spooky, the audio complements it all and setups are done well. Travel down a certain passageway one way and nothing happens. Enter from the other side and you might get a little shock.
However, it does seem that the horror focus trails off past the mansion. The others areas just aren't as foreboding as the mansion, which generally causes it to descend more into the realm of a typical monster flick than a horror experience.
Exploring the mansion and associated areas is no easy task though. Many doors are locked and the passageway layouts can be confusing. Finding the four keys tends to be the primary objective so that you can explore more rooms.
To get hold of key items though you'll find yourself facing two obstacles - puzzles and enemies. There's a pretty decent selection of puzzles to manage. Some don't go past the usual fetch item and place in slot but there are some more interesting ones. For such puzzle involves moving the clock hands according to a clue you've been given. These can be quite good in testing the mind so some decent challenge is present there.
Some of these puzzles aren't just of the "try and figure it out" variety though. The mansion itself has a few traps set up. A key may be holding a switch that activates a spiked trap. Sometimes you may come across an item that you can't get yet because you need a different item to stop the trap from activating. A good memory can really help here, which is more goodness.
One problem with this though is item storage, especially for Chris. Your chosen character can only carry a set number of items. For Jill this is eight plus her lockpicks. For Chris this is six plus his lighter. THe problem being that some puzzles require you to carry multiple items, which can lead to running to the nearest storage chest (which may not be that near to you). Considering you also have to carry a weapon or two, ammo and other key items like keys then it becomes rather awkward instead of challenging.
OK, so Resident Evil does provide some challenge in its exploration. What about enemies? RE certainly has them, but this is where the game starts to fall apart.
At first common enemies consist zombies and dogs. Zombies are slow so they should be easy prey, right? Wrong. Zombies don't flinch, take an excessive amount of bullets to kill and the confined nature of the hallways makes it near impossible to avoid them. A lack of a proper aiming system only makes matters worse. But this doesn't just apply to zombies. Other enemies are faster and more durable, making them even harder to take out or avoid.
Even worse are the crimson zombies. Fail to completely finish a zombie off and it revives later as a fast deadly zombie. These monsters are even harder to avoid than regular zombies and take just as long to kill. Capcom have also seen fit to keep your ammo supplies to a tiny amount. This means that you won' have enough ammo for everything, so expect to lose health trying to run past enemies.
Oh, but this evidentally wasn't difficult enough for Capcom, so bosses naturally appear. These tend to be even worse as you can't simply avoid most of them as killing them usually yields an item you need or opens a blocked door. Harder to avoid and even more durable, these drain ammo supplies even faster. If you've already drained your ammo... well, you're screwed basically.
The almost ridiculous level of difficulty is not just affected by the way enemies have been implemented though. Resident Evil makes use of a fixed camera system. The visual result is like switching between security cameras. It's a nice visual touch but the problem then is that not only can you not see where you're going half the time but it also affects how the game controls.
See, RE uses a digital control setup, seemingly ported straight over from the PSX version. Up moves your character in the direction they're facing, down causes them to walk backwards and left and right turns them. Sounds simple enough but because of the cameras it's a nightmare trying to determine character orientation and object layout. The results is your character running into everything and not being able to avoid enemies effectively because you're not sure where Chris or Jill are going to run. Aiming is also very limiting. Instead of being able to freely aim you can only alter your aim by 45 degrees up or down (as well as shoot straight ahead, obviously).
The rest of the control setup seems pretty logical. Hold B to run, or press B and tap down to do a quick turn (which really isn't all that quick). Hold R to aim and A either fires the gun (while aiming) or is used as the game's action button (pick up, open, switch on etc). If only you could move around accurately without looking like a drunk it would be a good system.
For those that can bear with the faults may find the experience ending sooner than expected. A playthrough can be done in a matter of a few hours, which is a little on the short side. That said it's not disasterous and you do get two character routes to play through.
Overall Resident Evil is a game with problems. It certainly manages to do horror right but it has notable gameplays flaws, which tends to be a rather big problem for a game. If you're looking for a solid gameplay experience there are better out there.
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